Happy December, and welcome, everyone, to Geeks Under Grace’s first-ever anime collaboration article! We are incredibly excited to unroll this new, monthly series for our readers, and introduce you to our anime department staff. To kick things off, we decided it would be best if we chose a topic which synthesized our two greatest priorities on the site: proclaiming the message of Christ, and revealing our various shades of geek. In this case, specifically, our inner otaku.
This month’s question, laid out on the gauntlet of the Geeks Under Grace anime writers: “How Could Christian Stories Benefit From Anime Adaptation?”
Most of our audience is probably familiar with a couple of inconsequential, animated, Christian films which dropped in the late 90’s called The Prince of Egypt and Joseph: King of Dreams. Of course, by “inconsequential” I mean each of them won several awards, possessed fantastic soundtracks (the former being composed by the esteemed Hans Zimmer), wielded mind-blowing casts, and otherwise gave old, biblical tales a fresh relevance in modern media.
Debates on the lack of pinpoint, biblical accuracy aside, most people left these films with a generally good opinion of them, adults included. (Funny thing, too, since cartoons are traditionally children’s movies.) Why is that?
Because, like anime, the medium used to capture these tales was a dynamic and powerful one. Anime is an almost universally underestimated lens for crafting narratives, including in the States, but those of us versed in the medium typically have plenty of fantastic story- or character-centric series/movies which have stirred our souls or made us pump our fists. Certain visual ideals can only be captured through animation, and, unlike the trends of western animation which have been dipping further into computer-focused models and films (at the time of writing this article, Disney’s Moana is smashing the box office), eastern anime has only been borrowing pieces of computer animation to aid its rapidly-improving traditional style. People loved movies like The Prince of Egypt because of what they brought to the table: a contemporary, biblical experience with impact and aesthetics the cinema had not properly captured up to that point.
If the same care and treatment were to go into a biblical film, donned in anime style, as those movies mentioned above, I have no doubt it would attract as wide an audience. Anime is more culturally accepted now than ever, and can be found internationally. Its influence has punctured and seeped into video games, literature, comics, music, and every other flavor of art you can name. What’s more, we already know anime can do well across the world, as evidenced by the resounding success of Studio Ghibli’s films.
The pieces needed for greatness are all there, hibernating, just waiting for some talented tour-de-force to compile them and cultivate them into Christianity’s next significant breakthrough on the contemporary battlefield. The ground is ripe. Now it just needs to be farmed.
I think the main reason why anime would be a great medium to adapt any biblical story from is that anime is able to tackle very deep topics, while at the same time being inviting to those who don’t necessarily go out seeking stories which have serious messages embedded into them. It’s almost as if discussion of these deep topics, such as those relating to spirituality, can effectively “hide” behind anime’s fun and/or engaging feel, while still being able to explore various concepts which may open doors to ideas and issues the viewer may not have thought about before.
Anime also has the potential to reach a very wide range of demographics–especially since anime generally caters to people of all ages. Another key factor is that anime includes all genres of storytelling, which is true of the Bible as well.
One more advantage anime has, specifically when looking at adaptation, is that the focus is generally on the story and characters, rather than the historical accuracy of the characters’ appearances. Anime characters generally have the same “look” and features across the board, except for a couple of characteristics which are used to separate them from each other (crazy hair, unique clothing, etc). This can help “suspend the audience’s disbelief” and keep the core focus exactly where it should be–on the story and characters, rather than on the accuracy of historical representation.
To conclude, I think the book of Acts would be one of the best stories in the Bible for anime adaptation. It has all the main elements which anime is strongest at portraying–a wide variety of interesting and important characters, adventure, huge character development arcs, visual potentiality, conflict, victory, and life lessons.
One of the first things which struck me when I started watching anime is one of the main reasons I think Christian stories could benefit from anime adaptations. In anime, it seems the viewer has a greater ability to accept the “weird,” “crazy,” or just downright “impossible,” simply because it’s anime. No one questions pre-teen girls gaining magical abilities and taking on strange monsters. The awkward, high school misfits, which suddenly have a bunch of people fawning over them, are considered an anime norm (even though, speaking as a high school misfit, that basically never happens in reality). No one bats an eye at characters who can throw fridges across roads (Shizuo), control reality with their mind (Haruhi), or learn to survive as a half-human, maybe-cannibalistic cross-species (Kaneki).
In reading some Bible stories, you come across similar instances: Moses splitting the Red Sea, Jonah being eaten and spat back up by a whale, and, of course, Christ dying and being resurrected. If these stories were adapted into anime form, I think people would be far more likely to at least listen to the story without immediately dismissing it for “being ridiculous” or because “that could never really happen.” It would be really cool to see stories like these adapted into anime series (or shorts), either telling a direct version of the story, or just a loosely-based one with strong parallels which may get people interested or asking questions. Even if someone were to begin watching one of these biblical adaptations out of idle curiosity, they’d be hearing the truth, even if they weren’t actively believing it, and you never know how God may use that little bit of exposure.
As a side note, the Bible’s already seen benefits from being adapted into manga (Manga Messiah by NEXTmanga). People seem far more likely to want to take part in biblical stories when they are portrayed as a form of entertainment. While the end goal will always be to get people reading the Bible, if taking interest in the stories via manga or anime helps them take that first step, then that’s awesome! This may be something we get to see in practice soon, as Prince Adventures—an anime adaptation of the biblical story of humanity’s fall into sin and Satan’s attempt to usurp Creation from God–is in development to be released ASAP. While some of us at Geeks Under Grace, Beneath the Tangles, and elsewhere are already using secular anime to open up faith-based discussion with non-religious people, having faith-based anime to discuss would make the experience that much cooler.
The primary reason I believe Christian stories would benefit from anime adaptation is simply because anime would allow for a lot more freedom in storytelling. Let’s face it: movies and “other” forms of animation have become mainstream, meaning most Christians are already familiar with them. As a result, adaptations done in these formats would, by default, fall under Christian scrutiny. While the Bible itself may contain some rather graphic details, it seems a lot of Christians feel depictions of such things are inappropriate, so most forms of media which attempt to adapt these stories have to do so in a “safe,” white-washed manner to avoid offending their target audience. Anime, on the other hand, is still something of a niche genre among Christians, in my experience, meaning the pressure to cave to typical expectations would be reduced, if not eliminated, allowing the content creators the ability to tell the stories in a way which much more accurately depicts what actually happened in the Bible.
Let’s make one thing clear: I’m not suggesting we use anime as an excuse to put debauchery on display. The Bible contains some content we couldn’t realistically depict in all of its detail without turning said content into something perverse. Examples would include depictions of David’s adultery with Bathsheba, or Absalom sleeping with David’s concubines in order to assert his usurping of the throne. While these things did happen, I cannot think of a way to depict them in detail without basically creating pornography.
On the other hand, there are other events in the Bible which simply lose their impact if they are watered down. My favorite example is the story of “Noah’s Ark.” I didn’t grow up in church, so I don’t have childhood memories of Sunday school, but I’ve seen enough to know, in general, that the story of Noah’s ark tends to be simplified for children, to the point that it only focuses on Noah and the animals. It completely glosses over the fact that the entire human population was wiped out, save for Noah and his family. Essentially, the greater message is sacrificed in order to present kids with a happy little image of an old man and some animals. With an anime adaptation, the full impact of these events could easily be put on display, as anime is generally intended for older audiences to begin with, and, again, those who would expect the white-washing of the story are likely to not have any influence on the production of said adaptation.
From a more evangelical standpoint, anime adaptations would also create witnessing opportunities which may not otherwise be possible. Hand a random person at a convention a Bible, and they’re likely to throw it back in your face. Show them an anime adaptation of something from the Bible, and they may actually watch it. I believe My Last Day was even shown at Otakon in some capacity in the past. True, no one is going to be saved just by watching an anime, but doing so could open the door for that conversation to take place. At the very least, watching a biblically-inspired anime could build connections which we wouldn’t otherwise have between us and others, and this could eventually lead to greater witnessing opportunities. I am, of course, speaking hypothetically here, but having been part of the convention scene for over a decade, I believe I have a firm grasp of how convention goers would react to traditional evangelical methods. This is where the hyper-spiritual would probably tell me, “Well, I refuse to use the world to win the world!” Last I checked, all creativity ultimately comes from God. Anime, in and of itself, is just another form of creativity—another style of animation. If you have no problem using a “Christian” painting to spark a conversation with a nonbeliever, then you should have no problem with a “Christian” anime.
Our next topic for January could help you introduce new friends into the otaku universe, as we discuss “The Best Gateway Anime.” If you liked this piece, please keep your eye out next month for the next compilation.
Until then, God bless and thank you for reading.
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